Leaving Palestine

Ramallah, Graffiti on the West Bank separation wall and poster of Professor Edward Said: Scholar, Activist, Palestinian 1935 – 2003. (photo: Justin McIntosh,, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons)
This piece written 22 years ago is a reminder the signs of impending crisis in Palestine have been documented for years.   It’s hard to say we didn’t know.

By Edward W. Said | The New York Review | Sept 23, 1999

Only once did my father elucidate the general Palestinian condition: “They had lost everything”; a moment later he added, “We lost everything too.”

I recall how, on November 1, 1947—my twelfth birthday—my oldest Jerusalem cousins, Yousif and George, bewailed the day, the eve of the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, with puzzling vehemence as “the blackest day in our history.” I had no idea what they were referring to but realized it must be something of overwhelming importance. Perhaps they and my parents, sitting around the table with my birthday cake, assumed that I shouldn’t be informed about something as complex as our conflict with the Zionists and the British.

The signs of impending crisis were all around us. Jerusalem had been divided into zones maintained by British army and police checkpoints, through which cars, pedestrians, and cyclists had to pass. The adults in my family all carried passes marked with the zone or zones for which they were valid. My father and Yousif had multizone passes (A, B, C, D); the rest were restricted to one or perhaps two zones. Until I turned twelve I did not need a pass and so had been allowed to wander about freely with my cousins Albert and Robert. Gray and sober Jerusalem was a city tense with the politics of the time as well as the religious competition between the various Christian communities, and between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. My aunt Nabiha once gave us a big scolding for going to the Regent, a Jewish cinema (“Why not stick to the Arabs? Isn’t the Rex good enough?” she asked rather shrilly. “After all, they don’t come to our cinemas!”), and even though we were sorely tempted to go back to the Regent we never did so again. Our daily conversation in school and home was uniformly in Arabic; unlike in Cairo, where we lived much of the time and where English was encouraged, our family in Jerusalem “belonged” and our native language prevailed everywhere, even when talking about Hollywood films: Tarzan became “Tarazan” and Laurel and Hardy “al Buns wal rafi” (“Fatso and the Thin Man”).

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